Tom Holland scales new acting heights in one of Apple TV+’s most anticipated new series, the 10-part “The Crowded Room,” debuting with three episodes this week.
We do a deep dive into the psychological thriller co-starring Amanda Seyfried as well as one of 2023’s best films of the year, “Past Lives.” And there’s a terrific stand-up-and-cheer feature debut from Eva Longoria.
Here’s our roundup.
“The Crowded Room”: Tom Holland flings himself into any role, from Spider-Man to his latest — as a troubled crime suspect in a gripping Apple TV+ limited series. It’s one of his most demanding roles — requiring a greater level of commitment than what was demanded of him in Apple TV+’s terribly overblown “Cherry.” Thankfully the 10-part “Crowded Room” is worth his considerable talents and versatility. Holland is an actor who makes you want to see his character do well, no matter all the bad stuff happening around him. It is that relatability, and Holland’s fierce commitment to lose himself in his character, that bolsters this engrossing series inspired by Daniel Keys’ non-fiction novel “The Minds of Billy Milligan.”
Holland stars as Danny Sullivan, who’s arrested for an alleged shooting at Rockefeller Center in New York. The one trying to extract the why’s and the what’s from a jailed Danny and earn her tenure in the process is interrogator/psychology professor Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried). Each tension-filled episode features their “sessions” together and leads to flashbacks to Danny’s years spent with his emotionally distant mother (Emmy Rossum of “Shameless”) and his step-father (Will Chase). Showrunner Akiva Goldsman takes full advantage of the 1979 setting and fashions a successful psychological thriller filled with good performances and taut direction. But this series belongs to Holland and he’s shattering to behold. His emotionally staggering performances takes “The Crowded Room” to a whole new level. Details: 3 stars out of 4; three episodes drop June 9 with one following each week on Apple TV+.
“Past Lives”: On paper it looks at first like filmmaker Celine Song simply recycled a stale romance trope — two childhood friends who’ve been separated for decades meet up only to find out that they are the ones who … . But Song’s trick in her heartbreaking feature is that she avoids filling in the dot-dot-dots and creative spaces with what we’ve come to expect. Instead, she gives us three complicated but likable protagonists — New York playwright Nora (Greta Lee), her author husband Arthur (John Magaro) and Nora’s sweet reminder of what life was like in South Korea, Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Their coming together doesn’t lead to a cliched affection tug-of-war but contemplates complex issues about cultural identity, how the past shapes present relationships and how a partner can never entirely share what their lover’s previous life was like.
For all those heady reasons, time serves as a powerful metaphor in “Past Lives,” and Song — a playwright herself — makes the passage of hours, days and years appropriately fluid, allowing scenes to reveal how much time has elapsed through dialogue. It puts us into a sort-of dreamy fugue state at times, and it pairs well with the Korean concept of in-yun — how interconnections from our past lives affect the here and now, which Song also explores. Gorgeously shot on 35mm, this a beautiful film to behold and is, in a sense, a visual poem. It certainly presents its actors with rich material. Lee has the trickiest part and is asked to convey — in one of the most profound endings you’ll see this or any other year — a wave of emotions with limited dialogue. Magaro and Yoo are in sync with her every step of the way, and each creates a remarkable character who’s sensitive to Grace’s needs yet captivated by her. “Past Lives” treats these very human characters with respect and care, and in turn we care for all of them. “Past Lives” is easily one of the best, if not one of the most profoundly moving, films you’ll see in 2023. Details: 4 stars; in theaters June 9.
“Flamin’ Hot”: It’s sadly a rarity to see Hollywood make a feel-good movie about a Mexican American underdog who relies on his ingenuity and determination to gain respect from friends and family and even land a huge promotion — one he never imagined he could ever achieve. In an energetic and irresistible style, Eva Longoria’s feature debut does a fine job of raising the voice of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), a janitor trying to get noticed at a Frito-Lays factory planet in Rancho Cucamonga, as well as hardworking wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez). The game changer in both of their lives is the fiery notion to spice up one of the company’s biggest snacks, Cheetos. Screenwriters Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez keep it mostly peppy but they do address such serious matters as the fact that most drug runners make more money than Montañez did. But “Flamin’ Hot” doesn’t dwell on that topic, nor should it. This enjoyable movie is designed to make you laugh, smile and cheer on the underdog. It’s a sweet surprise this summer. Details: 3 stars; available June 9 on Hulu and Disney+.
“Rise”: Happiness, as we all know, can be elusive and fleeting and eviscerated with just one misstep. Such is the fate that befalls up-and-coming French ballerina Elise (Marion Barbeau), who injures herself when she loses her focus upon discovering her dancer boyfriend is cheating on her. Having dedicated her life to dance, the devastating news that she might be done doubles the devastation. Unlike the harsh and deluded ballerina-eat-ballerina world depicted in “Black Swan,” director Cédric Klapisch’s dance world is more enlightened and supportive. Choreographed to perfection and filled with rich and encouraging exchanges with interesting characters who talk about following their passions or observing them from the sidelines, “Rise” is an exquisite French drama that celebrates the tenacity within us all and our ability to adapt and rise above what we were before. It’s a lovely film, filled often with lovely dancers who adjust their dreams accordingly. Details: 3½ stars; in select theaters June 9.
“Concerned Citizen”: Idan Haguel’s satire on white privilege and urban living plays out in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood in south Tel-Aviv where gay couple and hopeful parents-to-be Ben (Shlomi Bertonov) and Raz (Ariel Wolf) reside in a cushy, accessorized apartment. But that city could just as well be San Francisco, Los Angeles or most any other locale “Concerned Citizen” sounds an all-too familiar chord. Ben spots an Eritrean immigrant talking to a friend at night and leaning against a tree he recently planted to spruce up the dicey neighborhood. Outraged at what he’s seeing, he calls the cops. It turns out to be a rash decision that dominoes into an act of violence. Plagued by a mix of guilt and being viewed as racist himself, Ben turns into the embodiment of someone he doesn’t want to be, a privileged white person pointing the fingers at others deemed beneath him. It seems like a scenario played out all too often in the news, and it unspools here as a pointed, provocative drama that says a lot in such a limited time — 82 minutes. This is satire served scalding hot, and in the end those living on the edge are the ones most often burnt to a crisp. Details: 3½ stars; available for rental and in select theaters.
“Daliland”: The psychedelic, anything-goes New York art scene comes to colorful life in Mary Harron’s dishy romp in which handsome gallery assistant James Linton (Christopher Birney) crosses paths with iconic surrealist Salvador Dali (Ben Kingsley, chewing into the part) and the painter’s tempestuous wife Gala Dali (Barbara Sukowa). James gets entangled into that couple’s stormy relationship. But can he earn a permanent spot with this crowd or is he just a plaything? Harron (“American Psycho,” “I Shot Andy Warhol”) ponders that question a bit in this sinfully fun feature. It’s not one of her best works, but it is an entertaining one. Details: 3 stars; opens June 9 in select theaters.
“Unidentified Objects”: Juan Felipe Zuleta’s weird and marvelous first feature is a “road” picture that finds the grouchy, pretentious Peter (Matthew August Jeffers, in a performance of bite and anger) agreeing to drive eccentric sex worker Winona (Sarah Hay) to the site where she claims she had a close encounter with aliens. What could have been a dumb road trip transforms into a meaningful and occasionally humorous story about two entities — a man who has dwarfism and a woman with a wretched past — coming together in a world that doesn’t necessarily care to nurture or even accept them. Leland Frankel’s screenplay, the two lead performances and the compassionate direction from first-timer Zuleta make it a celestial wonder worth discovering. Details: 3½ stars; screens 7:30 p.m. June 8 at Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco, with producer Masha Leonov on hand, also available on Vudu.
Contact Randy Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.